The City of Niagara Falls has made news in recent months for the problems plaguing its water infrastructure. But the Cataract City is just one of many municipalities dealing with outdated systems in states of disrepair. The Niagara Falls Water Board is launching a new initiative to raise awareness of the need for large-scale improvements not just in that city but across the Great Lakes region.
The campaign is known as the Wastewater Investment Initiative, or WIN. The launch comes following Governor Andrew Cuomo's announced $20 million investment in the first phase of improvement to the Niagara Falls Water Board's wastewater infrastructure.
Albany is also providing $500,000 to help complete two engineering studies of the wastewater treatment plant's systems and discharges.
The City of Niagara Falls has, in recent months, endured several incidents of storm runoff causing overflows and discharges of untreated water into the Niagara River. The most notorious incident of discharge, in July 2017 near the falls itself, was said to be caused during a maintenance procedure but it first brought to light for many the city's outdated water infrastructure.
Water Board spokesman Matt Davison said the goal is to update the system through smart spending.
"We don't want to just see money thrown at the problem and spent wildly. We want to see it spent very strategically, so we can improve what's happening at that plant, the overall treatment of water, which leads to the more positive environmental outcomes," he said. "I think everybody, from the Niagara Falls Water Board, people of Niagara Falls and certainly the residents of this state want to see it happen."
As part of the campaign, elected officials - those with the power to provide the money - will be given tours of the plant and related facilities. The public will be able to keep up with developments through social media messaging and other "educational communications." Forums involving Great Lakes experts and other advocates are also planned.
The Office of Mayor Paul Dyster released a written statement expressing its support for the WIN campaign: "This is a significant step in the right direction for the Niagara Falls Water Board and demonstrates its commitment, in the wake of recent events, to the health and well-being of our natural environment and to the people of the City of Niagara Falls. Combined with a $20 million investment to support necessary infrastructure improvements thanks to Governor Cuomo, there is no better time to ensure that all residents are part of this important process through the Wastewater Investment Initiative. I look forward to working with the Water Board in continued partnership on this and the many continued efforts to come."
The announcement of the WIN campaign comes days after President Donald Trump, in his State of the Union Address, urged passage of a $1.5 trillion infrastructure improvement bill. Could Niagara Falls successfully convince the federal government, if the bill were to pass, to send some of that money to the Cataract City?
"Taking this to that federal level, in the State of the Union, is definitely the right avenue here," Davison said. "At some point it's going to have to be massive infrastructure investment to really fix this problem."